Despite poll figures to the contrary, in October this year, the Colombian people rejected the proposed peace deal between the government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), which would have been a concrete step in bringing peace to the nation and ending the civil war which has ravaged it for more than half a century. Now, it is imperative that the Colombian government, along with FARC and those who opposed the peace deal, continue the negotiations and the efforts towards peace that won President Juan Manuel Santos the Nobel Peace Prize.
More than 50 years of civil war between the Colombian government, leftist guerrilla groups and right-wing paramilitaries have destroyed families, with countless dead or missing. Attacks on pipelines and deforestation to make way for expanding paramilitary forces have caused severe environmental damage to the country. Many of the major paramilitary groups have disbanded as a result of previous peace agreements, such as the largest paramilitary group in the country’s history, the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia. However, FARC, a guerrilla group that has been a key actor in the civil war since 1964 has continued to play a major role in the conflict.
If the past few months have taught us anything, it is that the will of the people can be both changeable and highly unpredictable. When they are given the chance to express their political opinion through a referendum, the results can be just as unpredictable. With a slim victory of 52% for the No campaign, the current government has failed to secure a peace accord. While some argue that the rejection of the peace agreement signifies the Colombian people rejecting peace, rather, as the Nobel Committee stated, “what the No side rejected was not the desire for peace, but a specific peace agreement”. So why did the proposed peace deal fall short of the Colombian peoples’ expectations?
An unsatisfactory deal
FARC is held responsible for much of the death and destruction which has occurred as a result of the civil war. This can be seen as one of the key factors behind the public’s rejection of the peace deal. The failed peace accord was criticised as it was viewed as being too lenient on the rebels who, in the eyes of many Colombians, are to blame for the deaths of their loved ones and the fragmentation the country has faced during the last 50 years. The proposed peace accord offered the chance for rebels to avoid traditional jail sentences and instead serve community service if they confessed to their crimes. Furthermore, it allowed FARC the chance of becoming a legitimate political party in Colombia, which could be seen as overlooking the criminal actions carried out by the group. This led many Colombians to conclude that the deal lacked both any way of ensuring justice for those who suffered during the civil war and any ability to hold the perpetrators to account.
Much of this sentiment was given voice in the media by former populist president Alvaro Uribe who emerged as a staunch opponent of the peace negotiated by the incumbent government and FARC. During his presidency, Uribe gained 75% approval ratings in the polls, which is attributed largely to his success in tackling guerrilla forces by pushing back their strongholds and the reduction in their numbers which occurred during his time in office. The result of the referendum has served to solidify him as a permanent addition to the future of a successful peace process. So, what needs to be done next to ensure that the positive gains made towards peace are not undone?
Continuing on the path to peace
The peace process is far from over and hope remains for peace in Colombia as both the government and FARC, for the time being at least, are committed to achieving it. However, there is much work to be done in order to reconcile the needs of the Colombian people in gaining a sense of justice and the desires of the government to solidify peace and move forward in forging a prosperous post-conflict society. It is vital that the negotiations include the voices of those who opposed the deal, such as Uribe, who much of the population has rallied behind. To discount him in the process moving forward may be viewed as ignoring major concerns of significant sections of the community. It seems that this path to peace in Colombia is one that will face many twists and turns.
Read more about progress towards peace in Colombia
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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.
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